After railing against the Anchorage Assembly’s attempts to curtail the spread of covid-19 as the city hit its worst surge of the pandemic, Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson used the ongoing pandemic to justify a slate of budget vetoes issued last night.
His vetoes go after several budget items that the Anchorage Assembly restored when it unanimously approved the city’s budget last week and include cuts to funding for police officers in public schools, building inspectors, community grants and some early education grants.
In his statement accompanying the vetoes, Bronson once again attacked the Anchorage Assembly and accused its members of buying into overly rosy revenue projections for the city. He said the arrival of the omicron variant of covid-19 gives reason to doubt the city’s bed taxes and investment earnings will improve in the next year.
“Without a valid funding source and with the new COVID variant and bond rating concerns, my administration cannot validate or certify the funding source increases that the Assembly attempted to provide for in their amendments,” Bronson said in a statement accompanying the announcement.
Bronson also pointed to the city’s recent bond rating downgrade, an issue that he announced in a way to suggest that it was the result of the assembly’s budget. To most familiar with bond ratings, the explanation was flimsy given that the bond ratings were announced the day after the budget was approved and raised questions about what the Bronson administration had actually presented to the bond raters and whether he had intentionally omitted critical information.
The Assembly’s budget leads—Assemblymembers Austin Quinn-Davidson and Forrest Dunbar—blasted the Bronson administration, noting that the revenue projections were built with cooperation between the assembly and the administration and pointing out that Bronson “preserved every single new middle-management and political appointee position he had created.”
“The mayor just overturned what was only the second unanimously-passed budget in the history of the Municipality,” said Dunbar said in a prepared statement, “one that was shaped by thoughtful debate and compromise by both the Assembly and the Administration.”
“We are confident in the financial projections on which we based our amendments, and in fact crafted them with data from the mayor’s team,” Quinn-Davidson added.
Given the past track record of his vetoes being swiftly overridden by the Anchorage Assembly, it’s almost certain the Assembly will override the vetoes at its next meeting.
But about that covid
The Bronson administration’s sudden concern about the impacts of the omicron variant of covid-19 is particularly notable given that the mayor has generally claimed that it’s public health mandates—not the virus itself—that has driven the bulk of the negative economic outcomes experienced throughout the course of the pandemic. He’s made opposing any meaningful health measures—including expansive testing—a key position of his administration.
His administration drove out most if not all the public health officials who’ve handled the pandemic, replacing them with skeptics of public health measures and has refused to support any public health mandates whatsoever. Since assuming office, he’s refused to wear a mask and refused to be vaccinated despite several outbreaks within his administration. Prior to his election, Bronson testified to the assembly against expanded testing, arguing that it would lead to a rise in cases.
“I know how to end this epidemic or this pandemic, stop testing, we won’t have any more cases,” he said at the time, noting that he didn’t actually advocate such a course.
However, since taking office, the Bronson administration has sought to limit testing and some of the city’s most popular testing sites have been quietly shuttered in the past week.
Politically, Bronson’s used covid-19 as a cudgel against the Assembly by whipping up opposition to the city’s mask mandate (which he vetoed, and the assembly overrode). He also was a speaker at a summit for covid-19 skeptics, where he echoed a conspiracy theory that the virus was a man-made bioweapon intended to “separate Americans from Americans.” On the campaign trail, he said “This pandemic—if there was a pandemic—was over last summer.”
While Bronson has argued that abandoning public health mandates is the key to a healthy economy, many Alaska economists have disagreed sharply. Some like UAA economics professor Kevin Berry argued that the best thing to do for the economy is get the pandemic under control and restore trust to those who’ve withdrawn from working and regular local spending out of concern over the virus.
As for Bronson’s use of covid-19—an issue that by all accounts Bronson has been obsessively dismissive of—to justify the vetoes, Assemblymember Christopher Constant was blunt in his assessment.
“This appears to be a cynical move by the mayor,” he told the Midnight Sun, referencing Bronson’s campaign claim that doubted the pandemic ever existed. “For him to turn this into a political tool is just cynical and transparent.”